This letter was sent to the Guardian on 16 October
Your political editor reports that “No 10 will be desperate the Labour leader does not offend the Chinese or jeopardise Chinese investment in UK nuclear plants” when China’s President Xi visits London next week. (“Britain warned not to offend President Xi,” 16 October)
That is exactly what Mr Corbyn should be doing, because the proposed Chinese support for new nuclear build in the UK contains three unacceptable dangers.
When David Cameron met his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, in London in June 2014 (following his own visit to China the previous autumn), a key passage in the leaders’ agreement read:
“The UK Government welcomes investment and participation from Chinese companies in the Hinkley Point C project and progressive involvement more generally in the UK’s new build nuclear energy programme. This could include leading the development of other nuclear power station site(s) in the UK and the potential deployment of Chinese reactor technology in the UK, subject to meeting the stringent requirements of the UK’s independent nuclear regulators.”
Earlier this month, the chief nuclear safety and security inspector, Dr Andy Hall, resigned his post just two years after taking over from the last head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Dr Mike Weightman, who also resigned. Both left for personal reasons.
The current relations between ONR and French-state owned EDF Energy the proposed builders of the new Hinkley C nuclear plant deteriorated over the summer when ONR issued a statement asserting ONR had “taken the decision to suspend the production of future inspection reports until after NNB GenCo (EDF’s UK production company) has made its Final Investment Decision and is ready to remobilise the project,” ("EDF Energy mothballs planned Hinkley C nuclear power site," ClickGreen, 20 August,
It is essential ONR is robust in its regulatory role.
Secondly, reports from China suggest the safety of new Chinese reactors, a version of which they want to build at Sizewell and Bradwell, both very close to greater London, is under challenge from Chinese nuclear safety experts.
For example, atomic industry veteran Li Yulun said in October 2013 of the Chinese nuclear plant's developer, China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), of which he isa former vice-president, "Our state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding." ("China nuclear plant delay raises safety concern," South China Morning Post, 7 Oct.2013, http://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1325973/china-nuclear-plant-delay-raises-safety-concern)
Thirdly, does it really make sense to try to enhance our energy security - as ministers claim they are committed to doing - by handing over a significant portion of or power generation to the French State nuclear company, the Chinese State Investment Bank and CNNC.
Whether or not the Chinese have any industrial espionage intentions, as security service sources have recently briefed the media, surely abrogating the responsibility for energy infrastructure to foreign interests undermines national security control.( “Nuclear deal with China is threat to UK security,“ The Times, 16 October 2015, www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4587446.ece#tab-5)